How “American History X” is More Relevant Today than When it Premiered

The reformed Nazi story was billed as playbook for a pathway out of that lifestyle.

American History X
Edward Norton is surrounded by the police in a scene from the film 'American History X', 1998. (New Line Cinema/Getty Images)
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It’s been 20 years since American History X first shocked moviegoers across the country, but its message is more potent in today’s political atmosphere than ever before.

The abhorrent Nazi sentiments explored in the cautionary tale were “underestimated” by its creators, argues Vice, because they couldn’t “foresee the extent to which hate can infect, spread, and achieve widespread influence in American culture.”

That’s more obvious today in an America that has emboldened racists, xenophobes, nationalists and anti-Semites.

“I don’t think anyone watching American History X in the nineties thought its white supremacist characters would ever become mainstream,” director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, Heidi Beirich, told the news site. “In the nineties, these views were way outside the mainstream. Today, some of them are being echoed from the White House.”

The movie centers around a young skinhead (Edward Furlong) who struggles with the extremist views of his friends, and his brother (Edward Norton), who’s seen the light, so to speak, and is reformed by a prison stint for voluntary manslaughter. Some of the sentiments voiced by Furlong’s fellow Neo-Nazis, Vice noted, are the same uttered by President Trump.

“Our border policy’s a joke!” Norton’s character says in a pre-prison flashback while firing up his friends before attacking a minority-owned business. “So, is anybody surprised that south of the border they’re laughing at us? Laughing at our laws?”

On July 30 of this year, Trump tweeted: “Illegal immigration is a top National Security problem. After decades of playing games, with the whole World laughing at the stupidity of our immigration laws…”

It’s just one of the many overlapping ideologies that has leaked into American life in the 21st century and, to some, has led to violence like last week’s mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead.


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